Google's effort to marry Internet and television content through its Google TV platform is starting to look like a family melodrama, replete with bitter arguments over attention and money.
The major broadcast networks have decided that to prevent Google TV users from viewing the TV shows that they've posted online, in effect allowing only chosen devices and operating systems to access their Internet content.
ABC, CBS and NBC are blocking their online TV shows from being viewed through Google TV, The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday. News Corporation is reportedly considering a similar block for Fox content.
The block has no affect on the ability of Google TV users to view network content received through cable, satellite, or broadcast signal connections. It only affects network content on the Internet that is viewed through Google TV's Chrome Web browser.
Google TV users who happen to be sitting with a laptop can access the blocked Internet content through that computer's browser without any problems.
By limiting access only to approved technologies, the networks join Hulu, jointly owned by Disney, NBC Universal and News Corporation, which is also blocking its online content from being seen by Google TV users. Hulu is reportedly negotiating a deal with Google to carry Hulu Plus as a paid subscription service.
Google is talking with representatives from the networks to remove the block, according to a source familiar with the matter.
"Google TV enables access to all the Web content you already get today on your phone and PC, but it is ultimately the content owner's choice to restrict users from accessing their content on the platform," a Google spokesperson said in an e-mailed statement.
Google TV hardware from Logitech and Sony has only been available for about a week, but in that time users managed to find a way to play blocked Hulu content. Google TV displays Web content using a version of Google's Chrome browser and by changing the user-agent string in the advanced browser settings menu, users were able to bypass the block.
But Hulu saw that this was happening and turned to blocking against Google TV through either the user-agent string in the Flash Video Player or the measurement of lower level network metrics that aren't easily spoofed. It remains to be seen whether Google TV users will figure out a way around Hulu's latest roadblock.
Harold Feld, an attorney and consumer advocate with Public Knowledge, said in a phone interview that while this isn't a network neutrality issue, it does raise a number of concerns that fall under the FCC's jurisdiction. The issue came up during the Comcast-NBC merger, he said, when Rep. Rick Boucher wrote a letter calling for the merger to be conditional upon the merged company's willingness to make its programming available in a non-discriminatory way.
With the recent Fox-Cablevision spat, this marks the second time in a week that discriminatory distribution has made headlines, and Feld expects that the issue will get more attention.
"This issue has now been raised from obscurity to something people will spend a lot of time talking about over the next year," he said, noting that government agencies tend to spend a lot of time talking before any action is taken.